Last night I got up at 2-30am to watch the final of the European Champions League between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. It was a disappointing game, devoid of excitement and finesse. After Spurs fell behind to an early controversial penalty (not hand ball in my opinion), I hoped they might equalize and go on to win (as Celtic had done in 1967). Alas, it was not to be: Liverpool won 2-0.
As so often happens these days, my mind wandered back to my childhood - to 1963, when I was 11 years old and when Spurs became the first British team to contest a European football final. By virtue of winning the F.A. Cup in 1962 (beating Burnley 3-1), they qualified for the 1963 European Cup Winners’ Cup. This now defunct competition was for national cup winners. The winners of the respective leagues qualified for the European Cup, also defunct. Nowadays the top four clubs in England qualify for the European Champions League - a misnomer because only one of those clubs is the champion. I prefer the old system – one competition for the champion club of each country, another competition for the cup winner – but these days
money is everything, and having more teams in the mix generates more filthy lucre for all concerned.
Anyway, back to last night. Liverpool had won the Champions League five times already, whereas this was Spurs’ first appearance in a European final since 1984 (when they’d won the old EUFA Cup). I wanted them to win because they were underdogs and because I’d been a passionate Spurs’ fan throughout the 60’s. Jimmy Greaves, in particular, had been my hero.
My memories of 1963 are still vivid. Spurs played Atletico Madrid in Rotterdam on the evening of May 15th
. In those days, televised football was unknown, and I don’t think there was a radio commentary, so I went to bed praying for a Spurs’ victory. I would know the result the following morning when I listened to the radio.
In my heart of hearts I was pessimistic, because Atletico had won this competition the previous season and because the name ‘Atletico Madrid’ was, in my mind, synonymous with Real Madrid, for many years the greatest football club in the world. How could my team of assorted Englishmen, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish beat those magical Spaniards?
not only beat them; they destroyed them. 5-1 was the final score. I could hardly believe it when it was announced on the radio. I went to school walking on air and talked about nothing else that morning in the playground.
Later I read about the match in the newspaper and saw highlights on TV. My hero, Jimmy Greaves, scored twice – his first a sublime finish from a cross by Jones, his second a left-footed poke. Terry Dyson scored a brace, one of them a fortuitous lob through the goalkeeper’s hands, the other an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top corner. John White also scored. Danny Blanchflower was, as ever, the brains behind it all. And to think Spurs did it without the lion-hearted Dave Mackay, who was injured.
I wrote about the match in my school diary. Neat penmanship was de rigueur in those days, and I still have that diary with all my entries written in immaculate blue fountain pen ink. I got one fact wrong – Blanchflower was not injured – but everything else is accurate.
This morning, after reading about Liverpool’s triumph, I went to Youtube, wondering if highlights of the 1963
match were there. They were indeed; in fact the entire match is there in glorious black and white. I settled for the highlights, which I’d last watched on BBC in 1963. Greaves’ first goal is still a gem, as is Dyson’s second.
I have retained a soft spot for Spurs throughout my life, mainly because of my infatuation with Jimmy Greaves, but I more or less abandoned them when I went to Leeds University in 1970. Don Revie’s team became my new heroes. After that I supported Nottingham Forest, because I liked Brian Clough. These days I support nobody in particular; I enjoy watching any team that plays good attacking football. I've always supported Reading, my home town club, but in a lukewarm sort of way because they have never been glamorous or had star players. In 1963 Spurs were glamorous and had star players in abundance. We didn’t know it at the time, but their victory over Atletico marked the end of their great period (First Division champions 1961, F.A.Cup winners 1961 and '62). In 1964, their inspirational captain Danny Blanchflower would retire, a knee injury would see off Bobby Smith, and John White would be killed by lightning. Then, in 1965, centre half Maurice Norman, after a horrendous leg break, quit football. As Leeds and Liverpool grew in stature, Spurs would never be the same again.
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